Tragic stories of the Westsail and lessons to be learned

The Westsail 32 is a stout boat. With a gross weight of more than ten tons, and a ballast of three and a half tons, the remaining weight of wood, metal, and fiberglass is six and a quarter tons. An excellent choice for anyone looking for a hull that can fend off damage from running aground or boarding seas. The ballast is also encapsulated inside the keel so the only component under the water subject to damage is the rudder, which is protected by the keel and oversized bronze gudgeons and pintles. The rigging is also constructed with a stout mast, outboard chainplates and oversized cables, which can keep her mast upright even after being knocked down. Her balanced sail plan is designed to allow three sails to fly, with the jib stay extending six feet beyond the deck and the mainsail boom extending to the furthest aft part of the cockpit. The working sails are a 374  ft² yankee, 320  ft²  mainsail and 150 ft² staysail. Satori is 844 total ft², but the sail plan is calculated as 663 ft2. A reduced sail plan is an 80 ft² trysail and 85  ft² storm jib, a total of 165 ft². To keep keep the mast up, there are six shrouds extending outboard, a forestay, an staysail stay at two-thirds up the mast, and a single backstay. An additional set of running backstays provide opposing force when the winds are greater than twenty-five knots and the boat is running downwind under staysail or storm jib. The simplicity of a tiller prevents any potential risk of loosing steering because there are no moving parts aside from the gudgeons and pintles holding the rudder to the keel.

So with such a massively build boat, is it possible for a Westsail to sink or become dismasted? Absolutely. One thing to consider about owning a Westsail is the age of the boat and rigging. Bud Taplin provides a list of known part failures that have occurred over the last forty years. Rarely will you hear of a Westsail becoming holed from running aground but there are rare occasions where the captain made a fatal error in navigation, which caused the demise of their vessel. In the video below, you’ll see that this particular incident happened on the Coast of California against sharp rocks.

Most of the reports from Westsail being lost are due to rigging failures or neglect and abandonment. If the rigging has been well cared for and serviced regularly, the rig could be strong enough to handle a complete capsize and 360 degree roll. Sundowner is one boat in particular that has been rolled, yet did not suffer a dismasting. Likely this was due to the fact that the owners were meticulous in keeping the rig in good condition, and likely serviced and replaced any suspect part that has a potential to fail. Westsail ‘Pilot’ had also suffered a dismasting after enduring big seas and gale force winds. They attempted to run before a gale, then endured a complete roll, and finally lost their rig after attempting to run under bare poles. ‘Tar Baby II’ had also suffered a dismasting but not due to storms and heavy seas. This time it was a rigging failure from one of the toggles on a boomkin stay. The lower stays that hold the fore and aft stays are crucial to supporting the mast and are often neglected. They chose to abandon their boat instead of attempting a jury rig, and were rescued by a fishing vessel. The video below shows their wonderful journey, which includes the abandonment. What’s interesting about this particular situation is how the rig ended up failing. Since the downward support of the boomkin was no longer in tact, the wooden boomkin sheared right where the thru-bolts held it in place. The lesson for all Westsail owners is to make sure that these four stays that support the spars are new and their chainplates are also replaced. Bud Taplin suggests that every boat replace the chainplates that hold down the spars if they are original.

Another example of a Westsail suffering a dismasting due to a complete rollover is ‘Aissa’. In this incident, the boat was in the high latitudes, southeast of Stewart Island and was also reaching before the wind and seas under only the storm jib. Perhaps at this point of sail the waves had a good chance of rolling the boat, but as mentioned in this story, the seas were steep enough to potentially pitchpole the boat, which might cause even more damage or worse. This is yet another story of the captain deciding not to tow a sea anchor, heave-to or set a bow anchor. Fortunately they were able to run under jury rig and motor to get their boat to shore.

Finally, the last story was also a scenario where the boat was in the high latitudes near Cape Horn with an accomplished sailor named Tom Corogan, who extensively sailed his boat ‘TLC’. In this scenario, it is uncertain if the backstay broke or if it was also a result of the boomkin stays breaking, but it did lead to the mast coming down and the boat being abandoned. There is a photo that shows how the boomkin looked after the rigging failed, and it looks as if the entire mess of steel had lifted and moved to the port side, which may indicate that it was indeed the boomkin stays and not the backstay. Also in his interview he mentions “two little cables” instead of the single long backstay, which also indicates the boomkin stays had failed. The confusion is he also says, “after the two backstays broke”, but two backstays would not be considered little so I’m speculating that it was the boomkin stays. I am looking towards other to get more info on this incident. Another discussion seems to indicate that it was the backstay, but that was provided by a news article so there is still some uncertainty. What is known is that the wreckage caused the tiller to become jammed, which prevented him from steering the boat, then later caused the abandonment. Wether it was the backstay or the boomkin stays, a rigging failure yet again caused the boat to become disabled.

Perhaps the most known story about a Westsail abandonment is Satori. Many people mistake this Satori for the Westsail that is also named Satori on the Atlantic side of the country. By coincidence they were both named around the same time. My Satori did do some cruising in the North Pacific, but the infamous Satori only sailed the North Atlantic. Coined, “The Perfect Storm”, a popular novel included Satori and Captain Ray Leonard. The story begins with a well rigged Westsail with two crew members. The boat was knocked down in a storm that absorbed Hurricane Grace and another no-name storm becoming, “the storm of the century”.  There is an excellent article that documents the account which led to the abandonment of Satori. In short, the Coast Guard rescued the crew and the captain left the boat to sail under storm jib and pointed it towards New Jersey. Later the boat was found on a sandy beach on the shores of New Jersey and later repaired. Nothing more than a some light damage occurred to the boat after running aground. Later the boat was repaired and continued to sail without issue.

There are other stories about Westsails being lost at sea but much of it is limited information and not much to be learned from them, other than perhaps to carry the proper emergency radio communication equipment. I have not heard of any stories where the crew had rigging failure and the boat and crew perished as a result. I’m sure there are stories though. There were over eight-hundred Westsail 32 hulls manufactured so there must be more stories out there. Readers if you know of any, please add your comments and link to any other accounts that are available online.

So for future Westsail owners who plan to take their boat into the great big blue, perhaps the two biggest lessons I learned from the accounts above are:

1) Learn and use storm tactics that are known to succeed. Lin Pardy’s book, ‘Storm Tactics‘ describes heaving-to and deploying a para-anchor from the bow in a bridle to keep the bow to the waves. Bernard Moitessier tried trailing warps on his first trip around Cape Horn, then later learned that he could surf waves coming from his stern quarter under bare poles and keep the boat in control at all times. This meant having someone at the helm at all times as well. Many people believe that the Jordan Series drogue is a better solution for keeping the boat stern to the waves and slowing the boat down to prevent capsize. John Kretschmer describes his best heavy weather tactic as beating or heading to wind when the winds are gale and beyond. There are many other opinions and ideas regarding heavy weather sailing, but the most popular and perhaps the most successful is knowing how to avoid heavy weather all together. Either way, not one tactic will win but also not one tactic will work for all boats in all situations. I am still working on outfitting Satori with storm equipment. I have a new trysail and storm jib for when the winds allow for sailing, but am not further equipped with a para-anchor, Jordan series drogue or additional high-load tackle. I am planning on outfitting with both bow and stern anchors however.

2) Prepare and maintain your rig and rigging. In the most popular accounts of a Westsail becoming dismasted, it seems that the rigging could have been inspected, replaced and maintained to prevent a failure. This includes the chainplates, the mast assembly and toggles, turnbuckles and anything else that may not have been inspected or replaced before heading offshore. When I purchased Satori, I thought simply replacing the standing rigging would be all that is needed to prepare the rig for offshore sailing. I’ve now decided that I was naive to think that the four stays and chainplates would suffice, as would not rebuilding the mast and inspecting every single fitting. I’ve since decided that I will continue to refit Satori during this upcoming winter, with the primary project being the mast, boom and any other rigging that has not already been serviced or replaced. Another idea I’ve had is to make sure there are backups for the backstay and forestay. A dyneema solent stay would be useful to allow Satori to run under two sails, or allow a genoa to be deployed without having to take down the yankee on the roller furler. It would also allow the storm jib to be deployed on the forward triangle to balance the helm in winds from twenty-five knots to thirty-five knots. Currently the plan only allows for the staysail and mainsail triangles to be utilized. It would also serve as a backup forestay in the event that the steel stay failed. The backstay could also have an additional dyneema stay that could be attached like a running backstay but when running with only a sail on the forestay or spinnaker, as opposed to only the staysail and opposing runners. When neither of these stays are needed, they can be lashed outboard to a belay pin and because of their light weight, would not cause a sacrifice in weight aloft.

I do not expect anyone to believe that I am an experienced offshore sailing captain, or even experienced with Westsail 32 sailing yachts. I am only in my second year owning a sailboat and have never been offshore. I have only learned from the media that is available to read from other accounts. These accounts are perhaps the most critical elements of preparation. Even Bernard Moitessier did not have experience with heavy weather and big seas when attempting Cape Horn the first time around. He asked his wife and co-pilot to bring up books into the cockpit from their library so he could come up with a solution from other accounts. Vito Dumas provided enough insight in his account to allow Bernard to come up with his own ideas. He also knew that Tsu-Hang was pitchpoled by running directly before the sea under bare poles, which should be avoided. Only when he cut his warps and surfed on the stern quarter did he finally maintain control in such a sea state. Much of today’s information is no more than the same information that previous sailing authors had learned. I have chosen to stick with stories that would also apply to the type of boat I am sailing. Much of the stories written in the early 1900’s through the 1970’s were of double-ended, heavy displacement boats. Perhaps the only difference between today’s version of the same offshore boats would be a ketch-cutter rig versus a cutter rig, plus the addition of more advanced structural materials and rigging. The weight has decreased and durability has gone up. Only the quality is left to question when deciding which product will suit the application. Because of my extensive research, it has enabled me to conglomerate some of these accounts and lessons into something I can pass on to my fellow readers. I hope it has been insightful and useful for your own preparations. Please comment if you have any additional insight or opinion.

 

Fair Winds in the San Juans

Nine days away from Seattle was perfect. I had plenty of data in my Verizon hotspot to supply me with internet for the duration. I also did an oil and filter change, plus a new filter and water drain in the Racor 500 fuel separator. I wanted to do more but this would be okay until I get home and have more time to work on the engine. The water tanks were topped off right before I left and I had plenty of food and beverages to keep going without having to stop in a town to resupply. Satori was in ship shape for the San Juans and I had everything in order. This time I took a touring kayak so I could cruise around the island with something that did not consume fuel. I also brought the paddle board, so I had four different means of getting around while away. I did some scrubbing of the hull with my new wetsuit, replaced the zincs on the bobstay fitting and prop shaft, I rigged new reefing lines, plus a new outhaul system. The chain rode was also moved down and back to keep the bow light and I decided to use the old three-strand rode to learn about anchoring using line instead of chain. I also rigged the staysail boom in case I wanted to fly all three sails during a broad or beam reach. The fuel tanks were full and Satori couldn’t have been much more ready to leave the big city.

Using the GoPro iPhone app I was able to capture the spinnaker while the camera was raised up the halyard.
Using the GoPro iPhone app I was able to capture the spinnaker while the camera was raised up the halyard.

I left Seattle around 7am, which was during the outgoing tide. Getting north was no problem and at times I reached 10 knots with the boat going 5.5 knots and the current hitting 4.5 knots. Once through Admiralty Inlet it was just after slack tide, then heading north was during the incoming tide. This is the best way to get north quickly, and I will always follow this pattern when trying to travel long distances and make good time. I decided to stay in Anacortes the first night and try staying the night next to Cap Sante Marina. There is risk of running aground but if you follow the outside dredged lane southward to the first green buoy and then head towards shore, there is no risk of getting bottomed out as it stays above twelve feet until close to shore. The bottom is also very muddy so I knew it would hold well. The night turned out to be uneventful, but before leaving the next morning it seemed that the entire marina decided to go boating. The anchorage ended up becoming a choppy mess from all of the power boats heading out. If you are thinking about staying in Anacortes, consider other anchorages nearby with less boat traffic. Anacortes is a shitty spot to spend the night unless you make a very early departure.

Preset waypoints. Cruising speed over ground was as much as ten knots with the tide.
Preset waypoints. Cruising speed over ground was as much as ten knots with the tide.

 

I pulled anchor and raised sails as soon as I could, heading northeast around Guemes Island. At one point the winds died and I eventually motored back into the wind, then went under sail again. I tacked many times while staying close hauled to Doe Bay through channels and around many islands, just to warm up for the week of sailing around the islands. Beating to weather with inconsistent winds, opposing currents and lots of land in between put Satori close to Doe Bay but I was finally swept by the currents and out of frustration I fired up the engine and motored to the new anchorage. I wanted to experiment with a new technique on using a bridle to position Satori’s bow into the waves created by other vessels heading down Rosario Strait but still keep her held by anchor. When the winds were up I could maintain a solid position and ride waves from the bow but when the winds died she would move out of control and using a bridle proved to be of no use.

Doe Bay Resort artisan foods
Doe Bay Resort artisan foods

 

Office at Doe Bay
Office at Doe Bay

 

Spending the night in Doe Bay provides a nice way to save money but also enjoy the resort as a guest. Eliminate the $100 – 200 per night lodging cost anchoring.  The food at their cafe is spectacular and reasonably priced. Also for a small fee of $10 you can spend a couple of hours soaking in one of the three soaking pools in their spa. Clothing is optional and the temperature of each tub goes from warm to too hot. A nice way to finish off the night before heading back to the boat. After a nice cafe breakfast the next morning, I spent the day working on my laptop on the boat. Reception was a little iffy so I decided to raise the hotspot up the flag halyard, which resolved the issue and allowed me to keep working until it was time to head off to Sucia Island. There were very little winds so I motored out towards Fox Cove and anchored in the channel between Little Sucia and Fox Cove. It was approximately the same place I had first ever anchored Satori, or any sailboat, and was in a spectacular position for the night. A couple I ran into in Fox Cove remembered Satori back when the previous owner was still living aboard in Semiahmoo and mentioned the space station flying overhead at 11pm. At 11pm on the nose I watched the station come into view next the the brightest star on the horizon, then watched it speed up as it came overhead, then disappear on horizon over Sucia. To imagine a woman has been living on that flying spaceship for six months is astounding.

Fox Cove, Sucia Island - Strait of Georgia is the gap in the center of the photo.
Fox Cove, Sucia Island – Strait of Georgia is the gap in the center of the photo.

 

Around 1am the winds backed from the Northwest. Perhaps the worse position to be was in that channel while the winds built and the seas grew. By 3am the fetch coming from the Strait of Georgia caused the current to speed up and put me into an eddy with breakers nearby. By 5am I decided that the anchor rode was not in a good position. Because of the currents I was no longer getting held bow to the waves and wind. She would sail through the current into the eddy, then get caught and sweep back into the current again. The other issue I noticed was the angle of the rode would run back to the stern of the boat. I decided I didn’t like it any longer and moved into Fox Cove until the that afternoon, then moved around into Fossil Bay so I could be protected from both North and South exposure. Once I dropped anchor I realized that I was the only boat in the bay using their anchor. Everyone else was tied to the park buoys instead. I was far enough towards Mud Bay that I didn’t worry about it. Lots of mud underneath. I also discovered an old relic of an iron boiler that likely came from the abandoned steamship left in Echo Bay in 1902. It’s located north of the Mud Bay entrance on the other shore just under the waterline. After spending the day in Fossil Bay I decided to head to Friday Harbor for the night so I could pick up some groceries. Sailing down the President and San Juan Channels were spectacular. Winds were fifteen to twenty knots and I enjoyed staying as close hauled as possible, which meant hand steering to keep her moving fast enough and close enough to only need a few tacks before close reaching to Friday Harbor.  I kept my waypoints from my last visit so I was able to anchor a little deeper into the bay just north of the marina.

Fossil Bay, Sucia Island. Taken from Mud Bay
Fossil Bay, Sucia Island. Taken from Mud Bay

 

I spent half the day working from The Bean Cafe, which has friendly servers and is in a good environment to leave Sasha leashed outside. Just about every person had a chance to play with Sasha and say hello. Half of the customers is enough to satisfy her needs of attention beyond myself for the rest of the week. The winds began building during the day and by mid-afternoon they were gusting pretty good. I decided to finish up work from the boat and have a look at the anchorage. Satori was in a good position but she was sitting on the lee of the bay so if the winds built anymore, she may drag and run aground. On the way to the boat a young guy and I had a chat and when I mentioned a Westsail, he said it was his dream boat. I offered him to visit while I was getting the boat put away so I could sail to a more protected bay. I recognized his voice from Shilshole Marina and discovered he once lived aboard his boat near my dock, and shared the laundry facilities. He and his girlfriend decided to move into the San Juans and he took a job with vessel assist. His story of crossing the Columbia River bar at max ebb with an inexperienced crew brought back memories of my own adventures. I think we both share the ambition to sail to the South Pacific, as well as sailing in heavy weather and currents. We exchanged info and he left me with a new experience of grapefruit cider to find when I get home.

Getting under-weight in Friday Harbor. Satori motored from the anchorage and ran downwind in twenty knot winds.
Getting under-weight in Friday Harbor. Satori motored from the anchorage and ran downwind in twenty knot winds.

 

Blind Bay, Shaw Island
Blind Bay, Shaw Island

 

For whatever reason I was a little nervous about getting into twenty knot winds. Perhaps it was the amount of other boats nearby, the confines of passages and channels and not having a staysail to keep Satori steady. I saw twenty-six knots on the instrument but it really wan’t anything I couldn’t handle. It was downwind through the windiest parts and then the winds died completely once I was reaching west. Getting into anchorage at Shaw Island was no problem, and the wind speed and direction were much better for staying the night at anchorage. Through the night and the next morning the winds never reached beyond fifteen knots. I am uncertain what they were back in Friday Harbor. The next morning I ended up sailing to Rosario Strait but once in the strait the winds died so I motored back to Anacortes. By the time I was at anchor it was getting dark. The next morning I woke up and was under-weigh by 6:00 am. I was hauling ass through the strait so I lowered my throttle so I could time the slack tide getting through Admiralty Inlet. The seas were calm and there were very little winds. Getting through was easy and due to lack of winds I continued motoring until around Point No Point in Puget Sound. I raised the spinnaker for about an hour, making good time but then again the winds died. I motored the rest of the way back to Shilshole.

Cap Sante anchorage with oil refinery in the background. Not a very peaceful place.
Cap Sante anchorage with oil refinery in the background. Not a very peaceful place.

 

Sasha sleeping in the spinnaker
Sasha sleeping in the spinnaker

I’ve taken a week off from sailing. The mainsail cover project has been started, storm sails are completed and ready to pick up from Schattauer, and I have done an excellent job procrastinating on the staysail deck hardware project. I spent some time cleaning the exterior teak, some interior reorganizing, replaced the engine fuel filter and engine coolant. The pace at which I am able to continue accomplishing each task has been manageable. Satori’s blog has been relocated to a new domain, and I’ve added a YouTube channel so I can share video along with the photos available through this blog. I doubt I will have time to edit stories but I’m happy with simply providing to you short cuts of some of the sailing adventures I’ve been enjoying. I will also try to dig into the video archive and post some of the past cuts I have never published. I hope you enjoy this next phase of Satori’s refit and adventures. Enjoy the summer.